Back in 2003, what simply started as a family misunderstanding turned into a tragic evening for Curtis Harris.
Curtis went to his sister’s house after he had been drinking, and his sister had a strict no-drinking policy in her home. There was an argument, and Curtis’s sister called the Milwaukee Police Department.
After Officer Kevin Clark arrived on the scene, everything seemed to turn violent. Curtis was on the second floor of the house simply watching TV when the police arrived. When officers told Kevin to get up, he got up. But after he got up, the officers pushed him to the floor. They handcuffed him and carried him down the stairs holding the tight cuffs that were clamped to his wrists. To this day, Curtis has permanent scars on his wrists.
After carrying him outside with the cuffs, the abuse continued. They pushed him to the ground.
Mercedes Dickerson, Curtis’s niece, witnessed the violent scene outside on this cold December day. She saw her uncle cooperating with officers, and then she heard the officer ask her uncle if he wanted to be pushed into the mud. After she heard that, she actually saw them push him into the mud.
The unnecessary violence continued when they took Curtis to the booking room at the police station. Inside the booking room, the taunts and excessive force against Curtis continued. Officer Clark rammed Curtis’s head into a concrete wall for no apparent reason.
When Curtis did not get up after being rammed in to the wall, the officers picked him up and put him in the chair, not realizing the severity of Curtis’s injuries. Curtis fell out of the chair. Curtis tried communicating with the offices to tell them he was hurt, but they did not believe him. They accused him of feigning his injuries—and being an Oscar-winning movie performer.
Eventually, emergency personnel from the Milwaukee Fire Department were summoned when police began to realize that Curtis was not well. Even after the Fire Department arrived, however, the officers continued to accuse Curtis of being an actor.
Today, Curtis is a quadriplegic. It seems that when the officers pushed him headfirst into that cement wall both his head and spine compressed. The force was so strong that his vertebrae shattered and pushed out his spinal cord.
After his family approached Hupy and Abraham about bringing a case against the City of Milwaukee and Officer Clark, our Wisconsin personal injury law firm began preparing for this case. The firm discovered there was a videotape from the booking room when Curtis was rammed against the cement wall. The attorneys found out about it by accident from the Milwaukee Police Department’s own Internal Affairs Department.
Even though the police department said it existed, the Milwaukee city attorney’s office that was representing the officers repeatedly said, no, there was no such tape.
Through an open records request, Hupy and Abraham was able to obtain the tape. And, on that tape, there is actual proof that the officers used excessive force, and Officer Clark slammed Curtis into the wall.
Without the video, there probably would not have been a case. It would have just been Curtis’s word against the word of the police officers.
The attorneys had to prove to a judge that no reasonable person would do what the officers did to Curtis. Two other officers corroborated Officer Clark’s story, and claimed that Curtis was not cooperating, and that he was the violent one by attempting to strike out at the officers and punch them. But the tape shows Curtis was complying with all the officers’ commands, and that it was not possible for Curtis to throw punches at the officers.
The Milwaukee City Attorney’s office wanted to settle for $500,000. But, after consulting with our clients, we felt that was not good enough. The attorneys at Hupy and Abraham work hard and prepare cases that get their clients the full compensation that they deserve.
It’s important to note that Curtis Harris is an incomplete quadriplegic, which means that although he cannot use his four limbs, he feels pain 24 hours a day, every day of the week. He needs specialized care as a result of his injuries. Curtis requires assistance with everyday tasks that we all take for granted, such as simply getting out of bed and feeding himself.
Eventually, the city agreed to $3,000,000 to settle Curtis’s case. The three million dollar figure came from past and future medical expenses, past and future wage loss, and past and future pain and suffering.
The case settled for $3 million before going to a jury trial. If it had gone to jury trial, the damage award could have reached as high as $6 million. But Curtis has a criminal record for some minor offenses, and he may have not received that much from a jury.
Even during the depositions, Officer Clark still insisted that Curtis was not cooperating and was throwing punches—even after the videotape was played. There was also the code of silence, demonstrated when other officers collaborated on the story that Curtis was being violent.
Amazingly, after this case, Officer Clark was not fired from the force. However, he was fired a few years later because he injured himself while sledding on duty. After that incident, he and some of his fellow officers created a story that they were pursuing a criminal and were injured during the pursuit.
Curtis’s three million dollar settlement was the largest brutality case in the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin.
Curtis’s case was a civil rights case, and civil rights cases are very difficult because government entities—such as city government—fight hard against them. Cases like this sort often involve big damage awards, which unfortunately means significant injuries.
For over 50 years, the Milwaukee personal injury law firm Hupy and Abraham has had a proven record of success with large settlements in serious cases. The Curtis Harris case is just one case in which hundreds of millions of dollars have been collected for thousands of satisfied clients.